Greg Johnson has a way of making you feel like you’ve met him before. As you watch the Park Slope-based comedian perform, you start to feel less like you’re watching a set, and more like you’re listening as a friend tells you a funny story. He is your funniest friend and he’s telling you a very energetic story that you find yourself getting similarly amped about, and still you are left with a feeling of wanting to just grab a beer with him.
That isn’t to say that his style lacks professionalism. Rather, it is this genuine sense of familiarity, coupled with smart and truly funny insights, that has made him an audience favorite and a fixture in the local comedy circuit. It also earned him an award for Best Variety Show at Emerging Comedians in New York in 2007, with co-host Larry Murphy.
This Saturday, Greg will be performing a one-night-only show at Union Hall with guests Tom McCaffrey, Yannis Pappas, and Kate Berlant. We asked him a few questions about his journey into comedy and his experiences in Park Slope.
What drew you to the comedy world, and when did you realize you wanted to pursue it professionally?
I started doing stand up when I was 17 and I felt I was well-received so I just kept going. So “pursuing it professionally” was kind of a byproduct of just continuing to do it, even though a lot of smart people may have quit by this point and gone to law school. That’s what I envision quitting the performing arts to be: Law School.
Comics on TV drew me to it. When I was, like, 9, I heard some guy on Comic Strip Live say, “I don’t like camping, because I don’t enjoy pretending I don’t have a home!” and I was BLOWN THE F AWAY. I was like, “Wait, what did that man just say?!” That spoke to me. Which is kind of backwards. Also, my mom and dad encouraged all of my interests. (That is less backwards.)
Who would you cite as your greatest influences?
I’ve always been obsessed with comedies like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Howard Stern Show. My friends Matt and Kevin influenced me. Bill Murray. Saturday Night Live. Chris Farley. My family, for sure: They have a tremendous, tasteful sense of humor. I started doing comedy in Boston, and the comedians I met there at the time were greatly influential. People with names like Kevin Knox, Eugene Mirman, Brendon Small, Larry Murphy, Patrick Borelli, Ira Proctor, Rev Tim McIntyre, DJ Hazard, people at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square.
I also worshipped Louis CK, beginning in, like, 1997. I was on a show with him at The Comedy Studio when I was 19. And he came up to me right after my set – right before he was about to go up – and he shook my hand and said, “That was great! You’re 19?” And I was kind of, I guess, “star-struck” and said yes. And then he got on stage and said, “How about that guy before me? He’s 19!” And then he paused, and then he said, “I could legally f*ck that kid!” And the crowd went wild.
You’re a regular performer at Union Hall. How did that relationship develop?
Well I met Eugene Mirman when I started in Boston, and he made me a part of his Sunday show at Union Hall when it first opened. It’s a great place. I’m grateful they let me perform there. And I’m grateful Eugene Mirman’s been supportive of me, as both a comedian and his cat sitter. He might be the funniest person I’ve ever met. And I’ve met Jeffrey Ross!
Have you noticed anything about the Park Slope crowd that you don’t see in other audiences?
Park Slope crowds can be fantastic. It’s a little hard to generalize a crowd based on location, especially in a town as diverse as Brooklyn, because you don’t know what sort of audience will show up any given night. That’s part of what makes stand-up challenging. But in general, Park Slope audiences are great: The people are receptive, they have good taste and they seem to either have little children, or are weary of people with little children.
You know how they say, “Everyone’s a comedian”? Well, that’s so true on the web. Everyone’s trying to say something funny, everywhere. It’s actually kind of tiresome. And a lot of people seem to think, “Well, I got X amount of views or ‘likes.’ I should be a stand-up!” But it doesn’t always translate. Just the way it’s not always the case a funny stand-up would make a great blogger, Tweeter, or videographer.
I think it’s infinitely more difficult for someone to deliver funny live performances, consistently, than to be funny on the internet. Internet comedy culture can be, like, a funny Tweet, a funny GIF, or, like, “Harry Bit Me!” And that’s great. But in terms of performance, there are very few people in the world – stand-ups – who can capture an audience’s attention and make them laugh for 20 or 40 or 60 minutes at a time. That normally takes many years of practice, and even then most people fall short.
And this is not to say I’m great at any of this stuff. It’s just my opinion.
Like, your grandpa could write a funny “status update,” or even make a funny video that gets 100,000 views. But, does that mean he’d make a great live performer? Definitely not. So, I guess what I’m saying is, your grandpa sucks at stand-up.
Do I sound like someone who you’d like to see this Saturday at 8 at Union Hall yet? No? Or should I go to law school? Neither?
What is your favorite thing about living in the neighborhood?
I love most everything about Park Slope. My father grew up near Grand Army Plaza, and I really feel fortunate to live in Brooklyn, because I’ve loved it all my life. Park Slope is like my favorite place in the world. And, if I had to choose, probably my favorite part is Prospect Park. It is breathtaking and inspirational. For real. And I don’t say that to make me sound like a weirdo, although I’m willing to bet it might!
Do Park Slope experiences ever work their way into your material?
Yes, they do. Park Slope (and New York) are ideal for cultivating humor, because so much goes on. Much, much better and funnier than some dump like, oh I don’t know, Los Angeles. So much better! And I don’t say that to start an explosive East Coast/West Coast battle between NY/California comics, but that probably wouldn’t be the worst thing for my career! Print that!
What do you do for fun around the neighborhood? Any favorite local spots?
Hmmm, I appreciate the library and the Armory. I love all the delis and bars. I like Commonwealth. I like to go to Union Hall, like I said.
Oh, I also like Bar 4. Bar 4 has been great to me. That’s where I actually met Dina Lohan. Can I mention this? Dina Lohan has signed on to be my manager. I know that sounds like a joke, and I don’t think this is something she’ll be talking to the press about until after the holidays, but she’s a wonderful, classy, put-together woman and I’m trusting her to take my career to the next level. I met Lindsay at a church in 2009 and she urged her mom to sign me. I consider Dina a life coach, really. And I know that sounds like a joke, but you can print it. It’s a scoop.
1) Dina Lohan is my manager
2) East Coast/West Coast comedian feud
3) Please come see the show at Union Hall this Saturday – Oh! with funny guest Brooklyn comics Yannis Pappas, Tom McCaffrey and Kate Berlant! It’s going to be great – much more entertaining than my answers to these questions. Print that, too, please.
Catch Greg Johnson and friends this Saturday, November 24 at Union Hall at 8pm. Tickets $5, available here. 21+.
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